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Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the progress of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. (902055)

The Government are united around our shared objective of addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past in a way that delivers for those directly impacted by the troubles and helps society in Northern Ireland to move forward. As the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill continues its parliamentary passage, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my officials and I will continue to work closely with colleagues across Government and across the House to ensure that the legislation is effective and durable.

It was good to see that the Secretary of State visited the WAVE trauma centre; I know that will have focused his mind on the perspective of victims. This is a very complex and difficult piece of legislation to get right, but he will know that, as drafted, the Bill does not have the support of any of the parties in Northern Ireland. Given that we now have a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State, does he see an opportunity to progress the Bill in a way that will bring people with the Government?

The answer is, basically, yes. The Government understand how important addressing the legacy of the past is for Northern Ireland. We recognise that the Bill is difficult for many, and we continue to engage with stakeholders such as WAVE and across the piece regarding their concerns and how we can address them as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. I hope that the hon. Member recognises, though, that there is no perfect solution to this issue. We are committed to a way forward that deals with Northern Ireland’s troubled past as comprehensively and fairly as we possibly can.

When might we see the legacy Bill back in this place, and will there be a necessary review of moral equivalence and terminology?

The Government are clear that we will never accept any moral equivalence between those who upheld the law in Northern Ireland and those on all sides who sought to destroy it. The legislation seeks to deliver better outcomes for all those most affected by the troubles. It is important to remember that that includes the families of service personnel, more than 1,000 of whom were killed during the troubles. The Government will continue to engage with those most directly impacted by the legislation about their concerns and how these might be addressed. The Second Reading of the legacy Bill in the House of Lords will take place in a couple of weeks’ time.

Has the Secretary of State accepted the cold, hard fact that to have any legitimacy the final outcome of the legacy Bill needs the support of innocent victims and relatives of those murdered by terrorists, just as in the wider political realm any outcome of the protocol talks needs support across the community or it, too, will be doomed to failure?

Yes, I absolutely understand that point. Everything that we have been doing since I became Secretary of State is about trying to engage and consult more with those who had issues with the legacy Bill. It is never going to be a perfect solution to this particular problem, because no perfect solution exists. However, we will do our best to address all the concerns that people raise with us.

The Bill is welcome and, obviously, complex. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will see it through to the end, and will he confirm that this legislative proposal is very much the last-chance saloon? These are very complex, historical issues and this is the one chance that we have to try to resolve them. However, in the spirit of trying to build compromise and consensus, will he and the Government keep an open mind about cross-party amendments in the other place?

I am quite sure that the Bill is the last legislative vehicle with which any Government will try to address this problem, so it is very important, and it is incumbent on me as Secretary of State, to ensure that we use all the time that we have to improve the Bill, in such a way as my hon. Friend suggests. And yes—I am listening to all parties and all the consultees we talk to, and I am going out to visit victims and victims’ groups in Northern Ireland to try to gauge better what sort of amendments will improve the Bill.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has declared that the Bill is unlikely to be found compatible with convention rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has called it “fatally flawed”. Does the Secretary of State dispute that, or will he make changes to it?